Ming Yort Norng


We enter the pagoda compound with the car and stop in front of the sala (or dining hall). It is typical Khmer wooden building on stilts. I step out of the car and see Madame Yort Norng standing at the entrance of the sala at the top of the short but steep stairs that lead to the entrance. She see me great me with the typical smile that can be found only in the rural areas of Cambodia. I also call her name: ‘Yort Norng, sok sabbai’ She comes down the stairs and despite her sixty years of age and the problem in her right leg, she almost run to me. She takes my hand with both her hands and I can feel the hard skin typical of people use to farm and manual work.
We last saw in 2005, just before leaving from Kampong Thom. I used to work a lot in this district of the province. Many meetings in pagodas with members of cash and rice association trying to help improving the management of their association and the links with Commune Councils. I remember the first time I saw her in the meeting of the pagoda committee in Stoung. She did not speak much. She seemed to me shyer than the other six committee members. However with time things got better. My Khmer improved and I was able to have small talks. She became more self confident. After some time I learned that she was a widow. Working as farmer. Being the village chief in Preah Damrei, and leader of a cash and a rice association comprising a total of fifty families. I visited her in her simple house. I remember one of the walls of the stilt house being of palm leaves, while the other three in wood. I notices how well kept was the house. I remember visiting her in the district hospital in Stoung when she was attending to her son who had fallen from a tree and had broken the two wrists. . She stayed at the hospital for about a week since the relatives are the one who have to prepare the food for the patient. Her son had had an operation. I remember the bandages around the wrists that had not been changed for days. The bed without mattress and a chicken emerging from under the bed at some point. Yort Norng was there and took care of him.
She has now been elected in the Commune Council. She is still very active with the pagoda associations and has established one saving group for the poor of the village. She is really bringing something new to the Commune and for Cambodia: the awareness of the vital importance for a greater link between civil society and local government.
At the end of the meeting I tell my Khmer colleagues from Phnom Penh that Yort Norng was once received by the King Norodom Sihanouk together with the other six pagoda association members to receive 5000 USD as his personal contribution to the work of the associations in Stoung. The young colleagues are very impressed and ask more about it.
We leave. It was short meeting but with warm memories and feelings. She thanks for all I did in the past in this district. I tell her that all I know about rural Cambodia and its social capital I owe it to her and the other pagoda association members. She smiles and takes again my hands: ‘Arnaldo, sok sabbai’.